An Israeli Air Force official marshals an F-35I Adir to its spot after a Red Flag mission at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada (US Air Force)

JERUSALEM — Israel’s Ministry of Defense has signed a $3 billion deal with the US government for a third squadron of twenty-five F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, the government announced Tuesday.

The signing of the Letter of Acceptance between US and Israeli government officials seals the order, which was agreed to in July 2023 after years of consideration by the MoD about the right number of the fifth-gen stealth fighters needed by the IDF.

“The procurement of the third F-35 squadron reflects the strength of the strategic alliance between Israel and the United States. This capability has a significant impact on arenas both near and far. At time when some of our adversaries aim to undermine our ties with our greatest ally, we only further strengthen our alliance,” Israel’s Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant said.

That last line from Gallant is notable, as relations between the US and Israel are in a rocky place at the moment. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Joe Biden are locked in a staring contest over a potential plan to end the conflict in Gaza, which began after Hamas terrorists attacked Israeli on Oct. 7 2023, and there is a growing chorus within the US to restrict or outright end arms support to Israel.

The 25 warplanes, known as the “Adir” in Israel, will be manufactured by Lockheed Martin and the deal comes “complete with support and maintenance services,” the ministry said in its statement. The planes will be delivered beginning in 2028, with three to five arriving every year — meaning it could take until 2036 for all the aircraft to arrive.

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The approximately $3 billion deal, as estimated by the MoD, is funded through US Foreign Military Financing. FMF is a pot of money given by the US to foreign partners and allies to help fund the procurement of US defense equipment – in other words, sending out money that can only be used to buy American weapons.

“Procuring these platforms is part of a comprehensive initiative that the Israeli Ministry of Defense and the IDF promoted over the past two years to strengthen its capabilities and fortify its power in response to existing and future threats,” the Ministry said in its statement.

Director General of the Ministry of Defense, Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Eyal Zamir noted that the Ministry had approved this deal before the recent war broke out in October. However, he said the war has led to an “accelerated” procurement process.

“The Adir program and other initiatives we are advancing will help ensure the continued readiness of the IDF and the Air Force for multi-threat challenges in the coming years,” Zamir said.

“This sends a powerful message to our enemies across the region. I would like to express my appreciation and gratitude to our partners in the U.S. Department of Defense and the wider U.S. government for reinforcing and ensuring Israel’s edge and strategic capabilities,” Gallant added.

Israel received its first F-35 in 2016 and since then the planes have become the backbone of the Israeli Air Force. The warplanes carried out their first combat operations in 2018 and Israel created a second squadron for them in 2020. During the recent war, the jets have seen extensive action: Among notable operations, in November an Israeli F-35 shot down a cruise missile for the first time. The jets were also believed to be used in a strike against an Iranian embassy in Syria; as a result, the F-35 base at Nevatim in southern Israel was targeted by an Iranian missile and drone barrage on April 13, although the jets seem to have survived in tact.

The procurement of the aircraft comes as Israel is also weighing other airplane deals. Israel acquired new KC-46A tankers and CH-53K helicopters in 2022, but is also looking to buy more F-15s and may seek more combat helicopters